The Plain View Doctrine and its Relation to the Fourth Amendment

September 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

In its literal sense, the plain view doctrine exists to allow an officer to seize, without a warrant, evidence and contraband found in plain view during a lawful observation.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, however a search implies prying into hidden places for that which is concealed. It is not a search to observe that which is in open view. (People v. Wright, 41 Ill. 2d 170 (1968)).

For instance, if an officer enters premises on legitimate business, an illegal search does not occur if the officer allows his “eyes to wander.” Property discovered by a policeman lawfully present for the purpose of making an arrest, or for some other lawful purpose, is not protected against use at trial. (People v. Vaglica, 99 Ill. App. 2d 194 (1968)).

The plain view doctrine authorizes the warrantless seizure of an item when three requirements are met: (a) the officer must be lawfully present in the location from which he can plainly see the evidence; (b) it must be immediately apparent that the object in plain view is evidence; and (c) the officer must have a lawful right of access to the object. (People v. Moore, 328 Ill. App. 3d 1047 (2002)).

However, if the police officer lacks probable cause to believe that an object in plain view is contraband without conducting some further search of the object, meaning if the incriminating character of the object is not immediately apparent, the plain-view doctrine cannot justify the seizure. (People v. Jones, 215 Ill. 2d 261 (2005)).

(1) People v. Wright, 41 Ill. 2d 170 (1968)
(2) People v. Vaglica, 99 Ill. App. 2d 194 (1968)
(3) People v. Moore, 328 Ill. App. 3d 1047 (2002)
(4) People v. Jones, 215 Ill. 2d 261 (2005)